Montana high court dismisses same-sex marriage suit

[JURIST] The Montana Supreme Court [official website] on Monday affirmed [opinion, PDF] a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit seeking legal status for same-sex relationships. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] originally filed suit [JURIST report] in July 2010 on behalf of six same-sex couples alleging that state law prohibited them from benefiting from relationship and family protections and obligations automatically provided by law to different-sex couples who marry. In Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana [JURIST comment; JURIST op-ed] the plaintiffs sought legal recognition for same-sex couples despite a 2004 voter approved amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Montana's First Judicial District Court [official website] dismissed the suit [JURIST report] in April 2011. The ACLU appealed the decision [JURIST report], but on Monday the state's highest court affirmed the ruling, finding plaintiffs' claim overly broad:

It is the opinion of this Court that the broad injunction and declaratory judgment sought by Plaintiffs would not terminate the uncertainty or controversy giving rise to this proceeding. Instead, a broad injunction and declaration not specifically directed at any particular statute would lead to confusion and further litigation. As the District Court aptly stated: "For this Court to direct the legislature to enact a law that would impact an unknown number of statutes would launch this Court into a roiling maelstrom of policy issues without a constitutional compass." ... Broadly determining the constitutionality of a "statutory scheme" that may, according to Plaintiffs, involve hundreds of separate statutes, is contrary to established jurisprudence ... [T]he Plaintiffs chose to pursue an overly broad request ... without developing a factual record in the District Court and without identifying a specific statute or statutes that impose the discrimination they allege.
The court also suggested that plaintiffs file a new complaint challenging the constitutionality of specific laws and statutes, and plaintiffs have pledged to do so [AP report].

Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] is a contentious issue across the US with several cases currently pending at both the state and federal level. The US Supreme Court in early-December granted certiorari [JURIST report] in two cases dealing with same-sex marriage, including challenges to the legality of a California referendum and the Defense of Marriage Act. Also in early Decemeber, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire certified the results of Referendum 74 [JURIST report] which legalized same-sex marriage in the state. In the same time frame, the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, a non-profit corporation in Nevada which opposes same-sex marriage, petitioned the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] to grant certiorari to determine whether the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause requires Nevada to change its definition of marriage from the union of a man and a woman to the union of two persons. In November, the office of the Maryland Attorney General released an opinion [JURIST report] stating that same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses, allowing Maryland to become the ninth US state to allow same sex marriage after Maine and Washington enacted similar measures [JURIST reports] in November.

 

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